Thursday, December 25, 2008

How to Choose a Tour Company

Ten Questions to Ask Any Bicycle Tour Operator

How do you know which one is the best bicycle touring company for you?
Here’s a list of questions that will help guide you to the right choice.

1. How long has your company been in business?
New companies are okay, but be aware that the Internet has enabled small and inexperienced companies to look very impressive. This question will help you determine just how much and what kind of experience a company really has.

2. How is your company structured? Do you have staff in the home office AND overseas?
Some companies have a skeleton staff in the home office, and these same people run their tours overseas! That may be okay, but make sure that the BEST people are both answering questions in the home office AND running tours abroad.

3. Describe your tours for me. Who takes them? Is there a good match between your needs and the tour company? What is the "culture" of the company? Who will you be traveling with, veteran cyclists? Experienced travelers?

4. What distinguishes your adventure travel company from others?
Do they provide luxury travel?

The packing list you’ll receive for most tours includes a section about “what not to bring” including your gold jewels, your evening gown, or your business suit. Our tours are casual and our philosophy is to enjoy the best of the local culture, including authentic cuisine and centrally-located, locally-owned comfortable hotels.

Do they cater to extreme sports or just the adventure portion of your trip?
We love to ride our bikes and believe that there is no better way to explore the world. We have itineraries for all levels of experience and ability, and we find nothing more satisfying that converting “non-cyclists” to cycle touring. By getting out of the car or bus, your senses are open to the sights, sounds, smells around you…AND you become accessible to chance encounters with local people. When’s the last time you had an old Italian woman cheer for you on the uphill as she beats a rug on her balcony?

Are they an educational travel company? Do they provide guided tours, or self-guided tours? If you are looking for something specific, such as a wine tour, culinary tour, or cooking classes, can they provide this?

5. How long have you been running the specific tour I am interested in? Whether it's a bike tour through Italy, France or Turkey, every adventure tour has a "life" of its own. If the company has been offering a tour for a long time, they can tell you all about it. If it's a new tour, there are probably some bugs that need working out. That may be okay if they're a reputable travel company. But you should at least ask.

6. What is your most popular active vacation, and why? This lets you know where and in what they specialize. They should be able to tell you a lot about this particular tour.

7. How have past customers described the degree of difficulty on this tour? Many travel companies rate the difficulty of their active vacations. This allows you to choose a vacation package that suits your fitness level. Our tour rating system clearly ranks the physical challenge of each tour we offer.

8. May I speak with someone who has been on this tour? You should be able to speak with a staff member who has been on the tour that interests you. When you pick up the phone to ask if you’ll survive the climb over the Andes, you’ll talk to someone who has actually done it. Alternatively, ask for names of customers who have done the trip.

If you are a single woman in your 50’s interested in touring Europe, for example, ask to speak to someone like you who has been there before. If you travel as a couple, ask for the email addresses or phone numbers of at least two couples.

9. Tell me about the composition of the group on the vacation I've selected. You probably don't want to be the only single 30-year-old in a group of older couples on a cycling tour through France. So, ask about group composition. But remember, you'll probably have more fun with a mixed group rather than a homogeneous group anyway.

10. What is the history of this particular tour? Does this tour usually fill up? How often have you cancelled it?
You want to ask these questions for two reasons: First, if it is a popular tour that fills fast, you don't want to be left out! Second, if the tour cancels often (which is sometimes the case during low or “shoulder” season), you don't want to get stuck with an airplane ticket and no tour!

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